Monday, February 29, 2016

Meira Ovadia's exodus from Egypt to Israel

Her cousin Dina has told her amazing story - now its the turn of Meira Ovadia (pictured) to tell how her family fled from their native Alexandria to Israel. Her years of brainwashing against Israel did not disappear overnight.  Meira had left Egypt, but it took some time for Egypt to leave Meira, as her colleagues at Palestinian Media Watch put it.

Ovadia, now 25, was born and raised in Al-Ma'moura, a high-scale neighborhood in Alexandria, Egypt, under the name Maysa Abdallah. She lived there until the age of 15. Her wealthy family had a successful fashion factory, and for many years she lived comfortably. She didn't even know she was Jewish until 2005.
"Our parents didn't allow us to pray in a mosque or a church or visit friends' houses, and we never understood why," Ovadia says, with traces of a foreign accent slipping into her speech, dimples visible on her smiling face, and her eyes alight. "There were strange things at home that I didn't understand, like a meal on the Sabbath that my grandparents and parents insisted we eat together.

"My grandmother, who was very religious, also lit candles every Sabbath, but we, the kids, didn't know why. Grandmother would also tell us stories from the Bible, but they didn't interest us. I remember that I really loved the taste of the apple in honey, but I had no idea that it was connected to Rosh Hashanah.

"Our parents preferred not to tell us that we were Jews so that we wouldn't talk about it outside our house, so that we wouldn't be hurt. There were kids who suspected us and laughed at us. I was told that I looked Jewish, and when I answered them that I wasn't, they asked why my mother didn't wear a veil. I didn't know how to answer, so I told them that we were secular."

Until 6th grade, she studied in a Muslim Brotherhood school and after that she transferred to a Coptic Christian school. "I didn't like the Muslim school. I suffered there. I didn't want to wear a veil, and they forced me to. Every day we had to memorize entire chapters of the Quran by heart. Whoever didn't study or didn't speak nicely got beaten - serious beatings, not friendly pats. One time, I dared to stick my tongue out at one of the other students during a lesson, and the teacher hit my hand with a rod until my hand broke. I was taught to hate Jews, that they were creatures with horns, a long nose and a tail, and to hate Israel, the cruelest country in the world."

After the second Intifada broke out in 2000, solidarity with the Palestinian people and hatred of Israel were on the rise at the Muslim school that Ovadia attended. "On the wall in the classroom, there were two pictures. One was Muhammad Al-Dura, the child that, they explained to us, the Israelis had murdered. There was one picture taken just before he had died, and a second picture taken when he was already dead, on a stretcher. That's what was in front of the children's eyes - a child's corpse. My parents realized that there was no point in keeping us in that school, so we transferred to the Coptic school. That was much easier to handle. They also beat you there, but only for really serious things."  

In 2005, the family was forced to leave Egypt after masked men broke into their home, proclaimed that Jews were unwelcome in Egypt and that it would be best that the children not go to school anymore. "Five bearded men, with weapons and clubs, broke into the house," Ovadia recalls. "At first, they broke the glass of the electronic gate at the entrance, and then they came inside yelling 'Ald Al-Yahud,' 'the Jewish family,' and just started to destroy the entire house. They demanded to know where the men were, but none of the men - my father, uncle, and grandfather - were home.
"The attackers pushed my mother and she fell. We screamed. My brother and cousin were on the roof. The attackers went up there, trampled them and shot next to their heads to scare them. We heard the shots downstairs. It was horrifying. They left the house eventually, the police came, and we took Mom to the hospital."

Three days after the incident, the grandfather gathered his seven grandchildren and told them that they were Jews and that soon they would go to Israel and live in Jerusalem. "I couldn't understand where this had come from. To Israel? Why would I want to go to a country with people who had big noses and a tail? It was a total shock. The children reacted badly and were angry, but we left in the end."

"At the beginning, I pretended it was a trip. Ulpan was pretty good for me, but afterwards my cousin Dina and I transferred to the Amaliya High School [in Jerusalem], and it wasn't easy. We fought with the other girls all the time. Mostly I did. They called me Pharaoh. We had heavy Arabic accents, so they made fun of us. I was very insulted and I would hit the other girls. It took the teachers a long time to teach me not to hit. I couldn't stand the way the other girls talked and mostly disrespected the teachers. Maybe everything they taught me from a young age about the Jews affected me. The girls seemed ugly and cruel to me."

[Interviewer:] "But you didn't see horns and tails."
"You'll laugh, but the first time I went to Mea Shearim, there was some Haredi guy [religious Jew] - you know, with the whole outfit - that pressed himself against a wall in order to not come near me. I turned around to check that he didn't have a tail. Today, when I see what Palestinian children are taught, when I see seven year olds saying on air that Jews are apes and pigs, and the hostess of the program applauds them, I understand them. Once, I also thought like they did."

Her connection with Palestinian Media Watch started in high school. "I took the Arabic matriculation, and one of the employees at the [PMW] institute taught a class there once and asked every student to read part of a text. When he heard me reading, he told the teacher that I sounded like an Arab, and asked about me. The teacher told him my story, and he suggested that Dina and I come to work at PMW during summer vacation. I was 17, and ecstatic that I had a job. It was a joy. After high school I started working here full time."

Her acclimatization at the [PMW] institute wasn't easy. "I would argue a lot with the other employees. Because I didn't have Israeli friends, and because I didn't watch Israeli television, I was convinced that Israel was hurting the Palestinians for no reason. I hid the fact that I would cry about Palestinian suffering from the director of the institute, Itamar Marcus, but I would say to the other employees: 'The Palestinians lived here, and you came with weapons, kicked them out with force and took their homes.' One of the employees would argue with me all the time, and I would answer him half-seriously, 'Well, be quiet, you occupier.' The employees would laugh and say that you can take Meira out of Egypt, you can't take Egypt out of Meira.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've been a FB friend of Meira for a while and she seems pretty hostile to Judaism. Apparently she has a harder time accepting her Jewishness than the fact that she is now an Israeli...